3 tech phenomena you only encounter in the emerging markets

Emerging Markets

There’s a stage when, after travelling too much, or meeting too many people from the emerging markets, your perception of the world shifts.

At this stage, there are no more big Western technologies nor are there thousands of small players from the emerging markets. No, there are just two worlds who don’t know each other too well, each of the same size and importance.

I’m reaching this stage now after a year of travelling across Africa, the Middle-East, Asia, and, via the proxy of my team, in Latin America too.

Here are three massive things I’ve seen only in the emerging markets, and in my eyes, they’re way, way beyond whatever has been happening in the so-called developed world recently.

Messaging apps from Asia: you can do it all in a single screen

Mobile apps know a great divide between the West and the emerging markets, especially when bearing in mind how WeChat (known as Weixin in China) has been built and improved over the years.

Westerners have WhatsApp, a pretty “dumb” app, if I may say, even though the technology behind is amazing, as it allows a worldwide SMS style service to operate without any flaw, in no time, with group features even good old SMS still can’t reach.

In WeChat, of cours you can chat. But you can also play, buy, send and receive money, sort and curate your own feeds of media news, send stickers, find friends around you with a radar, do group chat, do talkie-walkie with friends, and of course, shake your phone to connect, nearby or across the globe, with other “shakers”. There are even more features listed on the website.

Another messenging app from Japan, Line, has a roadmap for embedding almost all the features of e-commerce on mobile, within the social network it has created through the “stickers”. From flash sales to group shopping and even a “creator’s mall”, Line intends to test and try a lot of new formats in 2015.

As of today, both apps have respectively more than 300-million (WeChat) and 200-million (LINE) monthly active users. It’s less than WhatsApp, but those two know how to make money with m-commerce.

Mobile money: from Mpesa to Bitcoins

Of course, we’re super happy that Apple Pay has recorded a million users in its first days since inception.

In Kenya, 15 million users are using M-Pesa, the local mobile money system, as a way to pay everything, from sending/borrowing money to paying tuition, utilities, or a simple coffee. Today, more than 25% of Kenya’s GDP is transferred through mobile money, and it accounts for more than half of all global mobile money transfers.

The system is also popular in neighboring Tanzania, as well as in Afghanistan.

Beyond this case, which made the reputation of Kenya as an innovative country in Africa, other emerging markets are expected to be among the first adopters of Bitcoins.

Why? Well there are a couple of reasons actually.

First, for many emerging markets, money sent from the diaspora is an important source of revenue (up to almost half the GDP for a country like Tajikistan). This money is so far subject to about 10% fees from companies such as Western Union. Bitcoin would cut this down to zero or one percent, releasing billions in these markets.

Then, because many in the emerging markets are unbanked, and for good reasons: it’s too expensive for a bank to host people with low savings. Here again, Bitcoin is an easy way to get people without a bank account to use money. In the Philippines for instance, two of the main e-commerce vendors accept Bitcoin as a payment, and many startups pay their staff with Bitcoins.

Do you know the name of this Indian social network with 700-million members?

“Incredible India”, as the country dubs itself for its diversity, extravaganza and, well, mess, is also home to amazing developers and brainpower. It will also be the largest population in the world by 2050, before China.

How to manage, as a state, more than a billion people when the level of development is so diverse? With Aadhaar, India may have found a solution more convenient than ID Cards (which they have not).

This unique identification system records both biometric (iris, fingerprint) and non-biometric elements (a PIN) for citizens willing to enroll. In just four years since inception, Aadhaar has registered more than 700-million Indian nationals, making it a huge database. And guess what?

It is now launching a first hackathon for developers to tap into this huge informational infrastructure, which can do pretty much everything, from payments to welfare or even KYC for e-commerce.

As you can see, there are a lot of things happening in these gigantic markets. Not only cool stories which you can share as anecdotes of a world where talent is obviously equally distributed, but also as new business opportunities to conquer new markets.

Image: Lending Memo via Flickr.



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